266 HISTORY OF WESTERN EDUCATION
them instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, music and
painting, and have them made capable in household affairs. It
was not a very enlightened programme of studies, but it was
greatly in advance of contemporary practice, and had in it the
promise of something better. In its way it corresponded with
the new. idea of preparing people for their station in life, which
was the most fruitful principle in courtly education; and it
initiated a movement for more adequate feminine education
among the French upper classes.
More important than Fenelon's views on the education of
girls is the general view of educational beginnings which underlies
his whole discussion. The idea from which he starts is the
necessity for commencing education in the very earliest years.
Children, he points out, can begin their education even before
they can talk properly. Their brains are soft and take on im-
pressions with great readiness. In learning to speak they are not
merely committing a large number of words to memory, but are
getting some idea of their sense. The behaviour of people around
them, again, has a powerful effect on them, for good or evil.
Consequently these early years must not be neglected by the
educator. At first, it is true, his work will be chiefly negative.
He " must be content to follow and help nature." The body
needs more attention than the mind. Care must be taken to
avoid injury to health by forcing instruction on them or by
stirring up the passions. On the mental side the main thing is
to prevent them forming a wrong estimate of their own powers.
They must be made to realize that the help given by adults is
given because of their helplessness, and they must not be allowed
to grow vain and presumptuous by an inconsiderate admiration
of their feeble powers. If they ask questions, for example, plain
and precise answers should be made, and new questions should
be suggested to show them how little they know; and as their
reason progresses, they should be kept humble by being reminded
of their previous ignorance.
Though F6nelon is mainly concerned about the exclusion
of evil influences in childhood, he recognizes the possibility
of making an early beginning with education of a kind. But
he would avoid the mistakes of the ordinary school, where, for
example, children are forced to learn Latin against their will.
So far as possible, he enjoins, instruction should be indirect.